Valentine’s Day may well have become over-commercialised, but the spirit of romance is eternal, and in our busy contemporary lives, this day gives us a reminder, and an excuse, to express our deepest romantic feelings and appreciation for the one we love and desire. Being a romantic, in the smallest, and largest sense of the word, I personally would advocate we do this for the other three hundred and sixty-four days as well! But that’s just me. So, if the last year has rushed by in a flurry of practicalities and pressures, Valentine’s Day is the perfect chance to present your loved one with a collection of timeless romantic poetry, bound in beautiful decorated board, leather, or soft suede, which can be read and enjoyed every day of the year. In The Darwin Rare Books Room, we have a large collection of beautiful poetry books to choose from, which will charm, delight and seduce. So...the perfect gift!
First, a charming, green suede covered, miniature edition of “Sonnets from the Portuguese” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning(1806-1861), the well-known Victorian poet whose poetry, like that of many Victorian poets, including her husband, Robert Browning, was formally very skilled, and also richly sentimental.
This book is presented as a translation, but is really a collection of love sonnets about her love affair and engagement with her husband, where she immortalises the ideal of romantic love within a husband/wife relationship. It contains profound thoughts as well as delicate emotional passages. Her most well-known sonnet, “How do I Love Thee?” contains some of the most famous lines in the English language, so if you are searching for the verbal epitome of eternal romantic expression, this is it:
“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and Ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith;
I love thee with a love I seem to lose
With my lost saints,-- I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears of all my life!-- and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.”
Sonnet XLIII. From “Sonnets from the Portuguese.”Next, another green suede book, with a beautifully embossed cover; Sappho The Queen of Song, arranged by J R Tutin, comprises a collection of translations of poems, and fragments by Sappho.(630-570 BC) It also includes eight magical little watercolour illustrations of nude women.
Sappho was a prolific, archaic Greek poet from the island of Lesbos, and her poetry was well-known and greatly admired through the ages. Her poetry is still considered extraordinary, and she is best known for her lyric poetry, which was written to be sung and accompanied by a lyre. She is also well-known as a symbol of love and desire between women and the terms “lesbian” and “sapphic” were named after her.
In her poetry she explores individual identity and personal emotions of desire, jealousy and love. She writes directly, with such clear language and strong images, that I find it astounding that these poems were written so long ago. They have a freshness and an immediacy that catapult her words into the twenty-first century;
“You stopt with kisses my enchanting tongue,
And found my kisses sweeter than my song.
In all I pleased, but most in what was best;
And the last joy was dearer than the rest:
Then with each word, each glance, each motion fired,
You still enjoyed, and yet you still desired,
Till all dissolving in the trance we lay,
And in tumultuous raptures died away.”Lastly, who could not be charmed and moved by the love stories in Edward Lear’s “Nonsense Drolleries” of two unlikely pairings; “The Owl and the Pussy-Cat and The Duck and The Kangaroo.” I loved these poems as a child, I loved them to read to my children, and reading them again now, purely for my adult self, their charm is just as great.
Both couples elope to fulfil their romantic desires for each other, with the owl and the pussy-cat singing sweet-nothings to each other, getting married, then honeymooning by the moonlit sea;
“And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.”The duck and the kangaroo take a slightly more practical approach with not just one pair, but four pairs of woolly socks, which in their case, does not seem to diminish the passion or happiness one bit;
“So away they went with a hop and a bound,
And they hopped the whole world three times round;
And who so happy,-O who,
As the Duck and the Kangaroo?”
All the above mentioned poetry books are available from our Darwin room, so pay us a visit today, just in time for Valentine’s Day!
By Diane Newland